Students across the state are returning to school this week with the new school supplies, energy and readiness – or not – for a new year of learning.
With that – for students, parents and teachers – also comes the renewed fear over the possibility of some deranged soul or lost youth entering their school with a firearm and leaving behind a trail of despair.
It’s a fear that increases each year as the body count at our schools – and other public places – continues to rise: Two students shot to death at Aztec High School. Seventeen staff and students shot and killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Two people shot and killed at a library in Clovis. Fifty-eight people murdered with semi-automatic rifles while attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nev.
The list of fatal shootings goes on and on and on and on, and yet the leaders of our nation – and our state – have been unable, or unwilling, to push through sensible gun laws.
There was a sense after the Stoneman Douglas shooting last February that the powerful gun lobby had finally met its match in the survivors of that Florida school shooting who called them out and demanded action from lawmakers. Whether that movement will move the needle on gun legislation nationally remains to be seen, but several Democratic lawmakers in our state say they plan to pursue a number of new laws in the next legislative session, which begins in January.
The proposals include:
• Requiring background checks on every sale of a firearm. Background checks are already required in many cases. But Sen. Richard Martinez, an Española Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bill he plans to introduce would fix a “loophole” in which someone can arrange a sale through an online ad and then meet in person to complete the transaction without a background check. A more robust background check bill died in 2017.
• Legislation directing judges to order domestic abusers to surrender their firearms while a restraining order is in effect. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, plans to introduce the bill.
• A red-flag law that would allow household members or law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily take the guns of someone they believe is an immediate threat to themselves or others. Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, is working on that bill, which would include a provision that someone who files a false petition would be subject to penalties.
• Two New Mexico teens, Sophia Lussiez and Julia Mazal, also made a presentation, asking legislators to pass a law that would make gun owners liable if they fail to secure their weapons, allowing access to children. They are working with Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, on a proposal for the next session.
All of these proposals are worth serious consideration and debate by lawmakers. But if history is any indication, these bills will face an uphill battle. Republicans and some Democrats, especially from rural areas, have argued that criminals aren’t going to let a background check, or similar law, stop them.
But, by that logic, should we repeal laws against murder, car theft and burglaries because criminals aren’t allowing those laws to stop them?
It’s worth noting that a bill requiring domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms, at least temporarily, did pass the Legislature in 2017, but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
That’s truly a shame because research has found that when domestic violence offenders are required to relinquish their guns, instead of simply being barred from owning firearms, the risk that those offenders may kill their partners goes down. The Los Angeles Times, reporting on the study, said that each year more than 1,800 people are killed by their intimate partners, and about half of those killings are carried out with a gun.
Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for governor, said she would support a legislative package to expand background checks to all gun purchases and prohibit domestic abusers from buying firearms. She also supports the creation of an “extreme risk protection order,” a legal process that would allow family members or law enforcement to seek temporary court orders to confiscate firearms from someone they fear may hurt themselves or others.
Her Republican opponent, Congressman Steve Pearce, so far has not appeared interested in having a conversation about new gun laws, which is truly unfortunate. A spokesman for Pearce said he supports the constitutional rights of all law-abiding New Mexicans, adding that the congressman “believes we must do more to protect kids in schools, strengthen and hold accountable law enforcement, fix the flawed mental health system and get criminals off the streets.”
Those are all laudable, but what about common-sense gun laws?
One man who attended the event at the Roundhouse last week where the legislative proposals were unveiled expressed concern that under some of the proposed bills, innocent people could lose their firearms because of false accusations.
Which begs the question, when did we become more concerned about innocent people losing their firearms due to false accusations than innocent people losing their lives due to unstable people with guns?
While it’s true that no reform will stop the carnage, these proposed bills have the potential to make a difference and save lives.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.